Child is born, with a heart of gold
Writing Levels
  1. Adaptable
I'm wary of magic with lots of rules.
Adelheid stood at the foot of the stage. She had not moved since the detachment disappeared into the maw, rappelling down on a knotted rope made of the stage curtains. The majordomo had long departured with jingling fanfare, disappearing to the backhouse to continue wringing his hands. Several patrollers dangled their legs at the edge of the hole.

The rope twitched and all heads shifted to it, like dewflowers catching the sun. The ones that ringed the hole were the first to reach for their masks, personalized contraptions of leather, vellum, and filter material. They strapped them tight around their clean shaven faces and gripped their spears, long shafts of pointed bone, as they braced themselves at the precipice and looked down. An irritated shake of Adelheid's scabbard forced them at ease as she ascended to the stage and peered down maskless, steadied against the rope. In the wet darkness was the faint flicker of a flare at the bottom, drifting like a spore as it climbed the knotted ladder.

"Eggs," Xola gasped into Adelheid's ear as soon as she was free of the dark. "Everywhere." Behind her, Sekani's ribbon curled into circles, over and over and over.

"The Specter will have to be quarantined." The weight of responsibility grew Adelheid against the majordomo, who had shrunk even more against her newfound authority. "We will stretch a vellum ceiling over the amphitheater and isolate the bowl." The majordomo sputtered with much chiming, but could not formulate a riposte until the firecracker minordomo ducked around him. "There will be patrols placed in shifts at the top of the ring -"

"The Red Specter will not be quarantined." She was dressed in facsimile of her superior, and although she was a head shorter than Adelheid she stood straight, edging out the hunched over majordomo. "We have shows scheduled nights from now. Madam Roussa will not stand for this. What is the reason?"

"I cannot say, until I have given my report to the council. You may come along and make your case." The Captain-Commander's white tunic was in sharp contrast to the revealing jewelry of the minordomo. "But until we have decided on a firm course of action, for the safety of Cadia I have to-"

"Have to? Safety?" A finger stopped just short of her nose, and though Adelheid did not flinch she blinked. "You have no grounds inside of Cadia. No authority. Until you come back to me with an edict, leave. At once."


"Are you going to use your heirloom on me?" Adelheid's gaze was yanked to her hand, gripping the handle of her star-iron sword. "Because that's the only thing that will let you keep your goons here."

The extended silence was broken by the rattle of the sword, as she tilted the pommel of the still-sheathed blade to the stairs that led back up to Atrium. The Captain's eyes spent just a moment to take in the frightened quirk of the minordomo's lips. She snorted and left with her detachment.

"Send for arbormancer." The minor punched the major's arm. "Now!!"


"... a nest." Adelheid finished her testimony. She sat erect at the head of the long wooden table, both of her palms placed on its surface, and only at the conclusion of her report did she bring her hands together, one over the other in front of her.

"Unprecedented." The old matriarch of the cutters was nearly agape the entire time. "The belly is the thickest part of Cadia. Surveys have shown layers of blubber at several times a Cadian's height, ending in impenetrable wallskin. We've never been able to go past it, even with the current - current thinning of the ceiling." She fiddled with an earring.

Keeper Ulmar adjusted his glasses, one paw for each temple. He had done that often over the testimony - perhaps an adjustment was in the future for him. "I am unaware of any record of incursion from the belly. There is some oral history of insectsign at the tailward fringe communities, but I am inclined to dismiss that as hearsay. There just has never been any thing like this!"

All eyes turned to Adelheid, but she squeezed her hands on top of each other and remained silent.

"There-" all ears turned to Barca, blonde and clean-shaven, robed in simple patrol garb. "There have been some trends reported from the waystations outside. It is still too early to tell - "

"Ah! Y-yes." Adelheid only nodded in confirmation. She had removed circlet from her brow for the meeting.

"..." Barca frowned nearly imperceptibly as he continued, "but we have seen bugsign closer than normal at this time of the year. Our forecasting cycles are off, and we misestimated the Hydell bloom." He looked to Adelheid, but the Captain-Commander lowered her gaze from Kolmi, who sat at the opposite head of the table, to the councilwoman's hands, and remained quiet.

The water clock struck for the last time of the day, but there was no sign that the meeting would come to an end. The keepers of time locked the tube into place as the ceiling continued to dim. Kolmi stood and moved about the chambers, pouring luminescent fluid into various vials and small jars.

"How deep did your scouts say this nest went?"

"Deep!" Adelheid snapped to attention for Kolmi. "A mix of antlion mucous and dirt. They reported eggs, a twisting structure as far as they scouted, and the- and the fungus."







"No ..." breathed Abraham, horrified. "A nest!" Barca and Abraham whispered to each other near closing hour at What A Waist.

"But.. but.. they have to.." Abraham's head jerked all over the place. He began to pant, perspiration beading on his forehead. "We have to purge- we have to salt the eggs.. desiccants.. Why isn't the Specter completely surrounded?"

"Of course we have to purge it. But Tora was still bickering with Adelheid. She's so green. Hasn't even memorized the cycles yet. Tora kept pushing ambergris to repair the belly, but Kolmi refused. Said there hadn't been a proper accounting done." He took a long swig. "Then someone from the Specter came in and barked about schedules until I forced the session to adjourn for tomorrow."

"What?! Fire! Just fire and salt!"

"Calm yourself!" Barca tapped his mug on the table. "I'm working on it."

"I- I have to go. My family." The grandpa and veteran left his half finished mug on the table. Barca remained to finish his own drink, and left a coin behind.

"Hey, Davreth..." Gorhal paused between his tenth or twentieth ale. The barkeep looked up from polishing the countertop.

"What's a 'nest'?"

Just outside the door, Barca snapped his fingers. A small flame appeared above the fading tattoo on his palm, though he did not need it in brightly lit Atrium. He rubbed the scar across his cheek, the one that had forced him into retirement, a victim of his very own rules, and set off for home.
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カンザキイオリ - 不器用な男
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Horror, Scifi, Fantasy
Press the treadle. Push the shuttle through the warp. Pull down the comb. Again. And again. And again. They were the same motions she had done almost every day for the last seven years. The same motions she would do until she was old and wrinkled, from the moment she woke up until right before bed. She wanted nothing more than to pick up the loom and throw it against the wall. But weaving was all she knew how to do. All she would ever know how to do. She couldn't afford to take the time to learn a new skill. She calculated their remaining budget for the hundredth time. With Oscar's jogumba they wouldn't have to worry about food for a week. If they could sell twenty more yards of fabric by the end of the week they'd have enough to buy more supplies for both herself and Zuzen. But to realistically sell that much, Celia would have to finish weaving at least two bolts in the next three days. Of course, this all assuming Zuzen could sell an item or two as well. She glanced at her mother's loom sitting in the corner of the room. Cobwebs hung from its dusty frame.

A sharp knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. Standing on the doorstep was a woman wearing the most ridiculous amount of jewelry she had ever seen. Just one jewel from the woman would be enough to feed her household for a month.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes. I am the minordomo of The Red Spector. I’m looking for a Zuzen Barre. Is he available?”

Of course. They were always looking for Zuzen.

“Yeah. Wait here.”

Celia left the glittery woman on the doorstep and went out the backdoor to the little shed that was Zuzen’s workshop. The door was slightly ajar; the lock was warped and prevented it from closing all the way. She knocked twice before sticking her head inside. Zuzen was bent over his bench, working on a glider. The broken ray sculpture was pushed to the side and Celia felt a pang of jealousy and guilt go through her.

“Someone at the door for you Zu.”

Zuzen looked up from his work, “What? Who?”

“Someone from the theater.”

He stood up, confused, and followed Celia back to the front of the house.

The woman had invited herself inside. When she turned to the pair, her various accessories made her sound like a wind chime. “Are you an arbormancer?”

Zuzen scratched his head, “Well, no, not strictly speaking. I can do bone and metal and I’ve never tried but I bet I could do…”

“But you can shape wood? Without ambergris?”

“Yes, but-”

“Perfect. You will repair the stage at The Red Specter for us. We will pay you seven hundred bales.”

“Absolutely not!” Celia cut in before Zuzen could say anything. “We can’t afford to do such a large job for so little. It’ll take him at least a month to fix that hole!”

The minordomo looked down her nose, “We’ll pay you in full upfront. I’m well aware of your situation. You won’t be able to replace your lost stock and sell it before you default on your debts. At least, not with the way your mother handles money.”

The twins flinched and their hands instinctively sought one another. The minordomo looked around the small living room theatrically. “I don’t see her. Is she at the gambling house now? Or perhaps one of the bars?”

Zuzen grit his teeth and squeezed Celia's hand. “I'll be over in an hour.”

“You’ll come with me now. Or else we will only pay a fraction as a deposit.” The pompous peacock pulled her brother’s hand out of hers and Celia was left alone. The sound of her footsteps filled the empty room as she walked back to the loom.
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"What the hell is an assistant magical effects supervisor? I sure as hell didn't need any assistance before, why do I need it all a sudden, Tav? Eh?"

Tav and Fretty sit across a table at What a Waist. Fretty is hunched forward over his drink, which is mostly full. Tav’s drink is empty, as he absently looks around for Davreth.

"Fretty, please, my dear friend, there's no need to feel threatened!" His voice is condescendingly melodic. "You should think of this as a boon! We're going to write and produce twice the shows at Seray Manor, so we're going to need twice the manpower. And there's undeniable talent among the refugees of The Specter." He waves at Davreth, but Davreth doesn’t see him.

"That so-called talent turned their back on you when you needed them! They've a talent for shitty… shitty friendship, or something. And what the hell is she doing at the Seray. I thought her, of all people…”

Tav gives up on Davreth, and turns to Fretty. "Look, Fretty, there's a reason I don't employ you as a writer, and there's a reason I don't employ you as a manager. And Madam Roussa is the best of the best in managing talent, there's no denying that."

Fretty draws his head back in disbelief. "Did you just say employ me!?"

"Yes I did, and sometimes I wonder if you forget that!” said Tav, then mutters, “in fact, she's been nagging me to remind you.” He notices Fretty’s shocked face. “Look Fretty, we started as partners, sure, but after a week of that, it was clear you’d had enough. We agreed. Stick to your fireworks, it's what you're good at,” and Tav jabs him in the chest, perhaps a bit hard.

"She’s been nagging you a lot, from what I hear.” Fretty seizes and downs the drink in front of him, belches loudly, and replies, “look, Tav, I can make shit fly, but this much shit ain't gonna fly, even with a whole piss bucket of ambergris.” He breathes deep, stands, and raises his voice to a bellow, “I ain’t about to start taking orders from that overdressed bitch. Either Madam Roussa is out, or I'm out, and you’d better believe half the true-blood Seray folks would come with me.” He slams a finger to his chest. “Before they were Seray, they were my crew!" Nearby, patrons have quieted from the commotion.

Tav rolls his eyes and smooths a lock of curled hair out of his face. He stands, and fumbles in his pockets. "Fretty, I really hope you don't mean that, but if you're serious, I'll of course have you back any time you like. You may need to start as an assistant when you return, though." He tosses some balleens on the table, enough for both their tabs and more, and turns to leave. Fretty is frozen with a red face and bulging eyes.

Tavolt is a few steps away when Fretty shouts to him, "you ain't a kid anymore Tav, and you can't keep making the mistakes a kid's gonna make. She's only ever gonna love herself!"
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“What’s this, another costume for tonight’s production?” Tavolt asks his new assistant, Vedmire. He holds up a brilliant red tunic accented by countless ornaments made of precious metals. They rattle with the movement.

“No, Madame Roussa chose that for you to wear for tonight’s opening.”

Tavolt give a knowing chuckle, but when Vedmire stares back coldly, Tavolt is surprised, “Oh, you are serious!”

“And the Madam instructs you to wear this sash with it as well,” he says, pulling a shiny black silk sash out from a bundle of cloth. It is studded with tiny diamonds which flash brilliantly in the dim light.

“Well… I suppose… it's not so bad…once you’re used to it.” Tavolt eyes it up and down, but has not yet suppressed his grimace. Vedmire neglects to reply, so Tavolt moves on, “have you seen Samara? She was supposed to come by this morning.”

The assistant shrugs with glazed eyes, "she's probably gone with the rest of Fretty's crew."

Tavolt purses his lips and stares towards the door. "Ah, well, let's get Yumi started on her role, she's probably a better match for the challenge, anyway. Yumi’s performance at The Specter was phenomenal last month.” He looks to his assistant. "It's nice to be finally working with real talent. Ack!”

Tavolt stumbles forward, groping for support. Vedmire, stunned, moves aside just as Tavolt crashes into the side of a table and stops his fall. He is bent, leaning heavily on it now. His hand slips under his shirt and comes out with a trace of red.

“That salve isn’t doing half of what was promised!” Tavolt heaves, “and what kind of ‘healer’ is that Elira anyway? Her carelessness has put me on a slow torturous route to the same exact end!” Tavolt stares at Vedmire, who looks bored. “Well, can you get me a new bandage wrap? We can’t have blood on my precious new evening wear, can we?”

“Actually, the blood shouldn’t show in this shade.” Vedmire points out, fingering the cloth, but when he sees the look on Tavolt’s face, he sets it down and heads out of the room.

Tavolt grabs a sword prop to use as a cane, thumping it on the floor as he struggles over and sits in the bay window which looks out into the front of The Seray Manor. Not only has the massive scab covering his left side been bleeding lately, but his step has gained a worsening limp.

He watches a few people start to line up in front of the door, even though it is the afternoon show and it is over an hour before the show begins. He sits up straighter now, and breaths more evenly.

Vedmire returns with a gray bandage cloth and tosses it on the floor near Tavolt. “There’s someone wandering around outside, claiming to be your brother.” He leaves before Tavolt can reply.

Coiran was battered in the storm of activity throughout most of the halls of The Savoy Manor. Even before he arrived, his plain garb was already filthy, having spent the last few days wandering the Atrium with Gemmi, with no baleens and no shelter. Eventually, wandering in The Seray Manor, he finds sanctuary from the bustle in a workshop of sorts, filled with parts for the stage and partially-finished props. Someone in the back is sawing, but is too busy to notice his entrance.

He appraises the workmanship, shaking his head. He finds a comfortable place to set down a sleeping Gemmi and spends the rest of the time smoothing his hand over a warped piece of bone which was causing a hinge to jam on a strange construction.

“That piece is supposed to be warped, actually,” Tav interrupts, “in the play, the character is forced to open the piece using bonemancy, but can never get it perfectly back in shape. Some things are irreparable.” His hand slides under his shirt, to his bandage.

“I could fix this with water and a strong brace,” Coiran observes.

“That’s not the point,” Tav chuckles. “Coiran, what are you doing here? I’ve heard you’ve been wandering my old haunts in the Atrium without a single baleen to your name, living off the Grace of Cadia. Been hard on the times?”

Coiran looks around the workshop, “you’ve really made quite a theater out of this old clearing house. Seems you are doing well.”

"Things are a little more than well, actually!” Tavolt thumps his way over to the window and gazes at the growing crowd outside, waiting for the doors to open. “Everyone needs a little distraction these days, and where do they turn to but the one theater still open in town?” He turns back to Coiran. “And if they aren’t distracted, then they are gossiping, about me! What secrets is he hiding in his play? Will he hint at something in the darkness hiding just beneath our feet, something the council doesn't want us to know?” He finishes with a spooky gesture. “Who knew fear could sell more tickets than joy?” He gazes into the dimming ceiling of the Atrium. “And believe me, my dreams have been wandering in some dark places of late.” He turns back to Coiran. “The darker the better!”

Suddenly, Tavolt’s face is full of exaggerated concern, continuing “but come, there must be some reason you’re here. Do you need something? I hope you’re not so desperate as to come to me for help, of all people.” Tavolt ends with a condescending smirk.

Coiran has been trying to find a place in the floor which didn’t creak, but has failed. “I…Perhaps… it was a mistake to come here.”

“Coiran! Let me help you out a little. I know why you were wandering in my old haunts. I drink with all the people you’ve been shaking down, after all.” Tav pauses as Coiran waits for him to continue. He enunciates each word, “you’ve lost Gemmi’s new eyes, haven’t you?”

Coiran checks that Gemmi is still asleep. “Please, Tavolt, this is difficult for me–”

Tavolt claps, “Ha! The nerve, saying that to me, after your attitude at the infirmary.” He starts to limp forward, the sword thumping and floor creaking, “go on, ask! Do you want my help? No, perhaps it is better to say you need my help. Go on, all you have to do is say it, is that so hard?” He’s close to Coiran now.

Coiran is sweating, gritting his teeth. “Will you help me?” Coiran struggles, under his breath.



“See the thing is, such important things are going on at The Seray, things that require a certain prestige to pull off. I’m just getting a taste of it now. If I’m going around back alleys carousing with degenerates, well, what does that say about the quality of my plays?”

He returns to the window and grins as the audience outside begins to clamor towards the doors. “This theater is the new heart of the Atrium, and the Atrium is the heart of all Cadia. You see, we’ve got to keep beating, and beating strong, or everything comes to a halt.” He is sounding the beat with the sword on the floor. The Seray finally opens its doors, and with the blockage released, the crowd floods in, racing for the best seats. “People look to us to know how to feel about all the madness going on. Surely you now understand, this is important work: work that will define who we are as Cadians.”

Coiran stares at Tavolt with a look of disgust, saying "I'm taking Gemmi away from this sick place." He leaves, Gemmi just starting to stir on his shoulder.

“Is that really all you have? Is that all there is?” Tavolt calls after him, and after hearing only silence in reply, chuckles and shakes his head.
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God's in His Heaven, All's Right With the World.
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  2. Female
Sci-Fi, Modern, and Horror.

Estra had been standing across the street from Bur, watching silently as he haggled over the price of food; rather unsuccessfully; for a while before she watched him give up in bewilderment. She scowled at the shopkeep from where she leaned, giving time for Bur to disappear into the twists and turns of Atrium before she pushed off the wall headed straight for the same place Bur had just failed.

"I'll give you three pieces," she opened with a motion of her hand toward the dishes that Bur had been trying at.

"Five and I'll make it yours."

"Five for just one? No no, you misunderstand, I want both for three, I see it only fair for what at offer," she frowned at the meager plates of mushrooms and fish, barely worth three if all things were to be considered, likely the shopkeep was simply trying to recoup losses from the rather abrupt end of the festival.

"No can do miss, it's ten for two."

"And that's absurd, you know damn well a plate's not even worth two pieces," she began, her temper edging out of her usual aloof calm as the shopkeep held his position as a stonewall might stand against the tide.

"Four and I can part with one."

Estra sighed heavily, beginning to understand now why even Bur had given up with the man as she brought a hand to the bridge of her nose.

"I think we're not seeing the same plate here sir," Estra started again as she waved at the gruel on sale, "I will give you three, no more, willing, I'd give less."

The shopkeep scoffed and waved a hand at her, "I say the same I said to that freak, five for a plate, or you can take your pieces elsewhere."

Estra cocked her head at the aging man, her eyes settling coldly over him as stared at her in annoyance, "I see now why you charge such absurd prices, you scare everyone away," she stated matter of factly with a disinterested wave of her hand.

The shopkeep stood triumphantly as Estra seemed to make to leave, though the red-haired woman noted a slight sway in his statue-still stance as she turned to leave, a shuddering, barely noticeable, adding itself to the man's movement as she began to step away. The shopkeep stuttered out a couple of words Estra couldn't quite manage before he placed a hand down heavily on the table before him shaking the arranged pots and cutlery as he did.

Estra stepped back toward him, her eyes alight with worry as she shot glances up and down the empty road.

“I guess you talked some sense into that old man?” Bur asked as he took one of the plates offered by Estra.

"He had a change of heart," Estra agreed.


Django Jane
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Burn them all.

Three words, so beautifully simple in their structure, yet so conclusionary a solution to their crisis. Three words, two items, and one action, and the patrol could put to bed the growing infection in the belly of their home. Burn them all, her subconscious whispered, over and over like a siren’s song. Xola stared into the bowels of her drink, listless.

She was never one for secrets. She couldn’t stand the burden of knowing things others should have known but just couldn’t, either by the will of the secret’s progenitor or the malignancy of the secret itself. Secrets broiled in one’s head like a tumor. They were wholly unnecessary to a woman like her, and she resented being saddled with one.

People would find out. They always did.



The barmaid gave her a significant look before pouring her another mug of ale. Xola sighed heavily. Even her lies were becoming flimsy in her distraction; the barmaid had seen right through her.

If someone had claimed to have seen the patrolwoman enjoying a drink at What A Waist a few days ago, anyone who knew her would have called them a liar. She typically preferred the privacy of her own home and patrons of her own careful choosing, but alas, she couldn’t be quite bothered with it; not tonight, when the day had been long, and the night looked longer than the very reaches of that foul rot in Cadia’s underbelly. A nest sat festering in their sanctuary, their home. And what were their leaders doing?

Barca was there. Her eyes slid his way, watching as he finished his drink and promptly left the bar. She hadn’t said so much as a word to him, save to hear what shift she had. The bare minimum of an assignment had been given her: to help patrol the edge of the hole, lest another antlion make its way to the surface. She didn’t question what would happen if one did. What she questioned was…

She downed her mug of ale in one go.

“‘A nest?’” She echoed, glancing aside at Gorhal. Simple, lovely man that he was; some people considered his brash ignorance an annoyance. But Xola had come to find it greatly refreshing. One could only stomach ambivalence and veiled words for so long.

Her horns dipped to the side as she leaned in, a desire to be heard amongst the growing rabble clear. “A nest is a collection of eggs…like an animal’s home. Where they raise their babies.”

She smiled kindly at him. “Like our bedrooms.”

It was only until she watched the understanding color in his eyes that she turned away, content to raise her mug. “Another, please,” She asked the barman.

There was still time before she had to mind the growing maw beneath Cadia.

Coded by Ardent


A Pale Reflection of the Sun
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A few nights had passed since the incident at her fathers grave. Despite having set the diseased flower down so long ago she still carried its implications, weighing on her otherwise quiet mind. Minnow would spend as much time as she could afford locked within her home, desperately whittling away the hours in an effort to distract herself from that one night a few days ago. The diseased tree and the bug at the atrium; what did it mean? Just the thought of it brought a tremor to her hands, the knife briefly slipping from her grasp and slicing a bit of her skin around her thumb. Her fingers were already covered in wrappings and poultices, a collection of decorated cuts and wounds gathered from her worried wood whittling. She dropped the small knife onto her table, only quietly sighing as she rubbed the soreness of her thumb. It was no use; she just couldn't shake the feeling. A creeping sense of dread loomed over her since that day. It was an omen of she ever saw one. Oh, why couldn't this just happen to anyone else? Minnow was content to live the rest of her life here in this little property of hers. She tore another length from the already prepared roll of cloth to wrap around her thumb as she stood from her seat, deciding to turn in early that night. Maybe she just needed a good nights sleep.

Cadia had other plans for her, as just as she began to step up the stairs she heard the sudden sound of approaching. . . singing? Uh-oh. Instantly, she scrambled for her window, slowly tugging open the curtain just enough for her to gaze out to the approaching strangers. Members of the patrol, what were they doing all the way out here? When Thomas was alive she remembered receiving many visits from the likes of them but none this. . . happy? She could see them standing at the edge of their fence exchanging words with each other. Her sheep flock behaved themselves, shuffling about and only occasionally giving the strangers odd glances or bleats. Maybe they just wanted to give the herd a little pat on the head. Sometimes, whenever a kid wandered too close, they'd want to do just th—

The patrolmen jumped the fence. Without a moments hesitation she swung the curtain closed again and hooved it across her house. There, leaning just beside the front door was her pitiful weapon of choice. A crook carved from a gnarled branch of an old tree, a bronze bell tied to its hook. Though meant to lead her sheep out into pastures now it would be used to lead a bunch of hooligans back across the fence. It was all so simple sounding in her head, yet when she picked up the staff and reached for the door handle she instantly felt her legs grow weak. A chill traveled her spine as the realization of what she was doing slowly set in. She wasn't a hero, what was she going to do with a big bell on a stick? Her mind told her this was the right thing to do but her poor heart didn't have the strength to. As she mulled over her ideas, however, more shouting broke through her thoughts.

A cloaked fellow had corralled the hooligans before they could even reach the sheep, she could see it through the peephole in her door. Instantly she felt her worries melt away, the breath she had been subconsciously holding in pouring out of her as her grip around her crook loosened. In her head she thanked the kind stranger a thousand times over from saving her the hassle of a confrontation she was not at all prepared for. She would wait until the footsteps were out of earshot before she finally pulled the door open, peaking her head out first to glance in all directions to make sure the coast was clear.

Minnow instantly hoofed it right to the pen, vaulting the fence in one motion with her crook by her side. The chime of the bell was a sign to all of her flock to gather around, each one of them marching forward and lining up before her for roll call. As she counted them all one thing became certain: Someone was missing. The faunus counted them all in her head first, then again with her fingers, then once more after running back inside for a parchment and quill to make absolutely sure that her count wasn't off. She was pacing now as she weighed her options, her hooves beating a new path into the dirt of her farmland. How could this be?! Did one of those patrolmen make off with one of her herd when she wasn't looking?! Impossible, she would've heard!

That's when she saw it. The answer was subtle to most but obvious now to her. How could she have not noticed? When the patrolmen had jumped the fence one of the planks that had laid balanced between the spires of bone had come loose, the lower beam of a far side laying askew. The gap was far too small for any of the adults to squeeze through. When the realization came to her what little color her pale face had was drained right out of her body.

Lillia had escaped.